We all been taught the importance of list-making, typically from a very young age. When we’re in grade school, we’re taught make a list of words and to memorize how to spell them. When we’re in middle school, we’re taught to write our homework assignments down so that we can check them off as we go. When we get into our professional career, we’re taught to make to-do lists so that we keep up with our work and don’t make the boss angry.
And list making is wonderful thing to help us stay on task and moving forward. But do to-do lists really get you moving forward? And, if so, is this the most impactful way to achieve the result you’re looking for?
Why To-Do Lists Hold You Back
To-do lists have been ingrained in us over a long period of time. Most notably, in our adult years, we’ve learned to make to-do lists to make sure we’re accomplishing all of the tasks that need to get done in a period of time. But what happens over time is, our to-do lists turn into to-don’t lists. This is because, as we continue to accumulate more and more tasks, we eventually become overwhelmed. So much so that, when we look at our list, we don’t even try because we convince ourselves that we don’t have enough time.
And you might be right. You probably don’t have enough time to achieve everything that you want to achieve in a given day or week. Let’s look at the typical soccer Mom, for instance. Now, I’m no soccer Mom, but I work with them on a regular basis, and hearing them talk about all the things that they are hoping to accomplish in a typical afternoon starts to stress me out. Maybe their list for a day looks like this:
· Wake the kids up
· Wake hubby up
· Make breakfast
· Get the kids ready
· Get lunch ready for hubby
· Take the kids to school
· Vacuum the house
· Clean the windows
· Take the dog to the vet
· Pick the kids up from school
· Take the kids to soccer practice
· Get a snack for after soccer practice
· Pick the kids up from soccer practice
· Take the kids home
· The dinner ready for the family
· Greet hubby when he gets home from work
· Have dinner with the family
· Get the kids ready for bed
· Read the kids a bedtime story
· Tuck the kids into bed
· Spend some “quality time” with the hubby
· Get cleaned up before bed
· Go to sleep
· Rinse and repeat
Now, if looking at that list doesn’t stress you out, then you must be a superhuman. This is why so many of us don’t achieve the things that we’re hoping to in a day, week, year, or lifetime. We look at all the trees in the forest and get overwhelmed. So, maybe there’s a better way to get our lives together and get us moving forward, instead of just spinning our wheels.
How to Make Progress Happen at a Rapid Rate
Like I said in the beginning, lists are a great tool to have. Without a list, we would most certainly struggle to keep our priorities straight and our lives on task. So changing the way we make lists and utilize them may be a better way to go about planning and preparing for our day.
There are 3 steps that I want to take you through that will help get your life moving in the right direction while also freeing up more of your time by not getting overwhelmed by the minutia of the daily list. For this to work, you’ll need a tool to capture all of your thoughts and ideas. It can be your phone or a notebook, it doesn’t matter. The important thing is, you put all of this in one place as you’re planning it out. You’ll also need to set aside 2 hours a week to do this. Yes, 2 hours of planning. But remember, these 2 hours of planning may save you 10 hours of unnecessary work that week. Failing to plan is planning to fail. Do what is necessary to get what you want.
#1) Take Everything Out of Your Head and Onto Paper
Start by writing everything down that you want to achieve, and covering every possibility you have to achieve it. If you’re working on a proposal for a work project, write down all the possible avenues you have to achieve the end result you want. If you’re wanting to get the kids to soccer practice, who else can you call, what options do you have to get them there? Literally unload everything you can now.
#2) Start Cutting Everything Down into Smaller Chunks
Chunking is the term scientists use to describe our brain’s ability to put multiple bits and pieces together into on coherent step. For instance, have you ever tried swinging a golf club? If so, do you remember the first time you swung, how awful it was. And then someone tried to teach you how to hold your hands and move your head and keep your eye on the ball and drive your hips and keep your firm. Well, if you’re like me, all of that was too much to think about and you didn’t have the patience to learn, so you moved on to the next sport. But if you’re like a good number of adults in this country, you continued to play and learn. And, over time, all of those steps just became your swing. You chunked 100 different steps into one step.
That’s what we want to do with our list. Everything in your list has a common element. Maybe you want to lose weight, so you wrote down “find a trainer” or “eat more veggies” or “start walking 5 times a week”. Find the commonalities, and move them under one chunk. For most people, exercise is 10,000 steps, but eating is 1 east step. That’s why so many of us are overweight. Take that 10,000 steps and turn into 1 step…exercise.
#3) Apply Pareto’s Law
Once you have everything broken up into chunks, you’ll still notice that you have a lot on your list. In order to cut some things out that may be unnecessary, you need to apply a little bit of math. Pareto’s Law states that we get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts. As you look at your list, start to visualize each step, and decide if it’s actually going to get you drastically closer to your outcome. Because the ultimate goal is achieving your outcome, not doing every step. What 20% of the things on your list will get you 80% of the results you want? When you start to think this way, your mind will slowly start to become more efficient and eliminate that things that are unnecessary.
Remember, the purpose of a list is not to do the things on the list for the sake of finishing the list. The purpose of the list is to achieve an outcome. When you can get clear on that, you can start to free yourself of the bits and pieces that are holding you back, and start to focus on the 20% that will get you exponential results!